Since starting DollarSprout (formerly known as VTX Capital) a couple of years ago, Ben and I have had the opportunity to network with many different bloggers and business owners in our niche. It’s been such a great experience so far, and I’m always amazed at how willing bloggers are to help out their competitors.
As we have slowly become more established in the online world, we’ve mentored some newer bloggers looking to make their mark (and an income from their blogs).
Earlier this week, I got the email below from a discouraged entrepreneur that’s been at it for around a year or so, give or take (just using his first name and x’ing out the website name for privacy). He’s been struggling to get any traction with his content, and you can sense his deflated motivation from the tone of his email:
I’m having a tough time staying motivated with ************.com. The growth has been slow, and I’m running out of things to write about. The YouTube videos we published did okay, but nothing like I wanted them to and I’ve reached out to other smaller blogs or websites to do a collaboration but no bites.
Do you have any suggestions or things that you see that I’m just completely missing the mark on?
I appreciate all the help you’ve given me so far, I’m just looking to actually make this successful, and it’s hard to stay motivated when the cash flow just isn’t there and the growth isn’t where I want it to be!
It takes a lot of courage to admit you are struggling and need help, so kudos to David for being upfront.
Below is Ben’s response to David (I was tied up on a project but I wanted to get him an answer sooner rather than later). Even though David is a personal finance blogger, the advice Ben dished out can apply to any blogger/online entrepreneur out there.
Jeff asked if I had any thoughts to help you break through your rut with ************.com so I figured I would offer my own two cents (and a few lessons) if you’re willing to hear them…so here goes:
1) Starting a business from scratch isn’t easy, and you know this firsthand.
It’s even harder when you have little to zero cash flow.
Something that was hard for me stomach when we first started was that I would have to spend money long before I ever saw a return. But I knew it was something I was in for the long haul and so I did it anyways. I spent $10,000-$15,000 (and not all once) on various services that I knew would pay off in the long run (establishing the business lawfully, legal/lawyer fees, the website itself, various enhanced hosting packages, website security, search engine boosts, subscriptions for the website, advertising (lots of it)…I could go on and on…
Now I understand we may not be in the same shoes financially, but there will come a time where you will need to consider making a significant financial investment in your business if you want it to be more than a hobby. It is extremely difficult/impossible to enhance growth if you’re not offering a product that is mega-unique…which brings me to my next point.
2) You’re not offering something unique (and neither is VTX, in all honesty).
You will literally never take away market share from established companies with enormous budgets on the noisy space known as the Internet.
That being said, there are still ways to make noise of your own (in the hopes of one day maybe having the cash flow to create your own opportunities and take ************.com where you want it).
In order to do this, you have to think outside the box. Cliche, but true.
You have to market/reach people in ways that you’re not currently doing.
Twitter and Facebook? Forget about them.
You’re never going to offer enough unique content as a one-man operation to keep a saturated market entertained (maybe don’t forget about them completely, but Facebook and Twitter are not where your focus needs to be).
Think about your demographic for a moment: 20- to 30-year-olds (75/25 male to female, if not more skewed than that).
They’re more concerned about making money than they are about saving money (sad, but true). And the few that are concerned with saving money are genuinely fairly well educated and will pursue bigger names for their source of authority (Morningstar, Kiplinger, Dave Ramsey, Jim Cramer, who knows…).
If you want to reach twenty-somethings who may not know much about money but might care, you have to pursue different forms of media where your target audience is getting less bombarded by the big names. Places like Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Flipboard, Pinterest, to name a few.
Pick one and dominate it…which brings me to my next point.
3) ************.com has to dominate your every waking minute.
Jeff and I literally do not have a minute to ourselves unless we plan it out in advance. That’s not to say we have no work-life balance… but there has to be a realization that if you want ************.com to be something, you’re going to have to work hard.
You’re going to have to find motivation to work even when you don’t want to and your first paycheck of $28.00 doesn’t come for another 1.5 years. It’s not easy.
We each put in no less than 80 hours a week into our websites. It really is all that we do. We are slowly becoming experts on social media because we spend every waking minute figuring out how to reach our audience.
And it wasn’t until we spent 1.5 years living and learning and making nothing before we decided what we thought was working actually wasn’t.
We stopped writing content that was falling on deaf ears and started studying what people cared about on certain media sites. We figured out ways to appeal to a bigger market than the maybe 25,000 kids our age group in the US who care about investing and saving (who go elsewhere for their info).
And it started to pay off. We started selling more financial coaching packages. We started monetizing our blogs in ways we hadn’t before and stopped trying to monetize in ways that weren’t working for us. We constantly evolved, and still are.
Think of it as an equally weighted equation: 50% of your effort is figuring out how to get traffic to your website to digest your content, 50% is trying to convert that traffic into cash.
Obsess over a single social media site if necessary. Dominate it. Learn everything there is to know about it.
Learn what titles to use, what descriptions to use, what times of day to post, how often to post, what images to use, why people like those images.
Obsess over stats, A/B testing, SERP/SEO optimization, your backlink profile. Its all-inclusive, and you have to hit it all.
And lastly, obsess over what other people are doing that is working. Find the 2-3 most successful financial bloggers you can find and learn from them. What exactly are they doing that is working?
My goal is to get you to think differently about ************.com.
If you want it to be more than a hobby, then you’re going to have to put pretty much every waking moment into it (maybe for a long time). We went from $1k months to being on pace for nearly $10k in sales this month because we became obsessed with ways we could scale and reach our audience.
And we haven’t taken a dime from it. It goes right back in.
If someone offers a service that gets you to where you want to be, take them up on it (assuming it’s reasonably priced and you’ve done your homework on them). It will pay for itself 10x over and that’s the way you need to think of it.
I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. Its meant to blunt but also motivating. You’re no different than us and you can do it.
It’s just gonna take more hard work and the willingness to constantly change.
You should always be asking yourself, “Is what I am doing working?”
No? Time to think about things differently.
Seems like you have some people in your corner helping you out, so it’s your job to make sure they’re on board, too. They have to be equally as committed or else that is super de-motivating in and of itself. Find someone though. It’s nice to have the support and you’ll need someone to share the load. It’s far too much work to do on your own and it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to accomplish what you want.
Hope this helps,
Co-Founder, VTX Capital